What you need to know ... Head coach Phil Bennett is all
about the defense, and his turned into a solid one as last year
went on. The speed and athleticism is finally there to run
things the way Bennett would like with more aggressiveness and
more forced turnovers, but it might take a little while to fully
jell with little experience in the back seven. Safety Joe Sturdivant and linebacker Wilton McCray are nice pieces to build
around. The line should be dominant with tackle Adrian Haywood
and end Justin Rogers among the best in the league.
Joe Sturdivant, 1112
Justin Rogers, 7
Interceptions: Joe Sturdivant, 3
Star of the defense: Senior SS Joe Sturdivant
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior LB
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore CB David Haynes
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Adrian Haywood
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sturdivant, 2) Haywood,
3) DE Justin Rogers
Strength of the defense: Line
Weakness of the defense:
Corner and linebacker experience
The line should be among the best in the
league if it can continue to be a rock against the run. Adrian Haywood
and Justin Rogers are all-stars who should flourish and be in the hunt
for first-team all-conference honors. Cory Muse should be a dangerous
pass rusher if he can stay healthy for a full season, while Brandon
Bonds is a strong nose guard who'll be the glue in the interior. The
depth won't be all that bad as the year goes on.
The key to the unit: A bit more of a pass rush has to be
generated from Cory Muse and the entire line needs to use its experience
to take another step up against the run.
Defensive Line Rating: 6
- DE Cory Muse, Jr. - 32 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 3
broken up passes, 3 recovered fumbles
The lightning fast junior made the move from linebacker to end and
turned into a terror once he got over some early injury problems. He has
the 240-pound size to be strong against the run, but his real worth is
as a pass rusher. With all the attention paid to Justin Rogers on the
other side, Muse should be in for a huge season.
- DT Adrian Haywood, Sr. - 42 tackles, 5 sacks, 12 TFL, 1
The star JUCO transfer of last year turned into an all-star in the
middle. He became the best player in Conference USA play at making things
happen behind the line and was a rock against the run. At 6-3 and 280
pounds, he's a strong presence who'll push for All-Conference honors.
- NG Brandon Bonds, Sr. - 28 tackles, 3.5 TFL
"Cornbread" is the team's
biggest tackle and has grown into the role on the nose. He's a 6-1,
300-pound rock in the middle
who grew into the anchor role last season stopping things up so
the rest of the line can shine. He's not bad at getting into the
backfield, but that's not his job.
- DE Justin Rogers, Sr. - 64 tackles, 7 sacks, 10.5 TFL
Rogers turned into an All-Conference USA force on the right side as both
a speed rusher and a run defender finishing sixth on the team in stops.
He's a big force to deal with a 6-4 and 265 pounds with the moves and
quickness of a much smaller player. It'll be a shock if he's not one of
the league leaders in sacks.
- DT Randy Denman, Sr. - 9 tackles, 1 sack
The career backup is a big body in the middle behind Adrian Haywood and
has to play a much bigger role. He has the talent to do much more and be
a strong interior pass rusher.
- DE Troy Therien, Sr. - 7 tackles
The former JUCO transfer got his feet wet as a reserve seem most of his
time in blowouts. He's a tall pass rusher who'll be part of the rotation
behind Justin Rogers on the right side.
It's a very small, very quick linebacking corps; that's
by design. The job of the SMU linebackers is to make plays all over the
field, and this group should do that with Wilton McCray returning to the
weakside and speedsters Reggie Carrington the Tony Hawking taking over
starting roles. JUCO transfer Damon Hurst brings even more speed, while
Paul Hiemenz and Will Bonilla can each run extremely well.
The key to the unit: The speed has to make up for
early mistakes and inexperience. Wilton McCray has to be an all-star
early until the rest of the group gets its feet wet.
Linebacker Rating: 5.5
- Tony Hawkins, Jr.
A special teamer last year, the 205-pound junior will bring his speed to
the strongside where he'll have to replace disruptive force Alvin
Nnabuife. He makes up for his cornerback size with 4.5 speed and and
sure tackling ability.
- Reggie Carrington, Jr. - 21 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 broken up
Carrington has the talent to grow into one of the team's top tacklers
now that he's the starter. He showed no ill-effects of a torn pectoral
muscle that cost him all of 2004 and saw plenty of action as a reserve.
Now he should shine with good range and enough experience to be an
- Wilton McCray, Jr. - 71 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL
The only returning starter to the corps brings 134 tackles of experience
and plenty of big play ability. He's a small 6-0 and 205 pounds on the
weakside and he has to make more plays against the pass, but he's
active, quick, and is great in run support.
- Damon Hurst, Jr.
He'll find a starting spot soon. The 215-pound JUCO transfer runs a 4-5
40 and has good experience making 93 tackles for Navarro Junior College.
- Paul Hiemenz, Soph.
Hiemenez will overcome his lack of experience with his range in the
middle. He's quick enough to play on the outside if needed with the
toughness to handle himself inside. At 225 pounds, he's one of the
team's biggest linebackers.
This could be an early concern if all the speedy new
starters don't play up to their athleticism. Joe Sturdivant is a
sure-thing rock at strong safety, and then all the jobs are wide open.
David Haynes can fly, and now he has to be a consistent corner. Randall
Goode has the best wheels on the team, but he has to prove he can handle
the full-time job at free safety. There's good depth and several options
to work with if the starters aren't up to snuff.
The key to the unit: Hope for all the speed and
athleticism can make up for a lack of experience.
Secondary Rating: 5.5
- CB David Haynes, Soph. - 15 tackles
Haynes saw a little bit of time as a true freshman and showed a few
signs of his potential. The team's most talented cornerback, he's very
fast and isn't afraid to stick his nose in on run supposed despite only
being 5-9 and 190 pounds. He's too good an athlete not to grow into a
- FS Randall Goode, Sr. - 6 tackles
One of the team's
fastest players, Goode finishing third in 100 and 200 meters in the
Texas high school state championships in 2002. The former JUCO transfer
has to be more than just a decent special teamer; he needs to use his
speed to be a consistent playmaker against the pass.
- SS Joe Sturdivant, Sr. - 112 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 interceptions,
11 broken up passes
The star of the defensive back seven, Sturdivant is a very smart, very
solid all-around playmaker with 179 tackles over the last two seasons
and the league's leader in broken up passes on his way to second-team
All-Conference USA honors. He's tough as nails and doesn't miss tackles.
- CB Jonathan Lindley, Jr. - 11 tackles
The nickel back throughout last season will be the starting corner on
the right side. Groomed to be the starter over the last two seasons, he
kept getting beaten out and forced into a reserve role and a special
teamer. He's one of the team's biggest corners and has the most
- FS Bryce Hudman, RFr. - 3 tackles
The 6-2, 200-pound Hudman is a bigger, faster option at free safety than
Randall Goode. With the speed to play corner and good hitting ability,
he'll see plenty of action after missing most of last season injured.
- CB Cortley Blackmon, Jr. - 13 tackles
The former wide receiver can play either safety or corner. With 4.46
speed and tremendous all-around athleticism, Blackmon will push David
Haynes for the left corner job.
It'll be up to Thomas Morstead early on to handle all the
kicking duties, but he'll be pushed by Andrew Galloway for the punting
job and Bryden Harris and Ryan Wolcott at placekicker. The return game
should be outstanding with Jessie Henderson back after averaging 27.5
yards per kick return and Blake Warren returning after averaging 9.8
yards per try.
The key to the unit: Thomas Morstead has to be half
as good as the kickers he's replacing, or else it'll be a case of
musical kickers throughout the season.
Special Teams Rating: 6.5
Thomas Morstead, Soph.
Morestead will get the first look at all the kicking duties after
spending last year waiting and learning behind PK Chris McMurtray and P
Ryan Mentzel. McMurtray nailed 18 of 22 field goal attempts with two of
them blocked, while Menzel averaged a solid 40.8 yards per kick with 17
put inside the 20. Morstead is 6-4 and 210 pounds with a huge leg, but
he'll get plenty of competition for both spots this summer.